Stutzke’s Stats: Why cold weather drops tire pressure

Get ready to see your dashboard light up with that familiar yellow glow soon as temperatures continue to plummet this weekend.  No, it’s not your check engine light, but your tire pressure monitoring system.

Colder temperatures mean many of us will be dealing with the loss of pressure in our tires. So, what is it about the cold that wreaks havoc in our tire pressure? It all boils down to the number of air molecules and how they interact with each other.

During the warmer months of spring and summer, warmer temperatures promote proper tire pressure by keeping air molecules inside your tires active. Their constant movement and interaction with each other actually promote higher pressure levels as they exert more force towards the outside of the tire.

As air temperatures drop during the fall and winter months, the activity between these air molecules begins to decrease dramatically. This allows more space to develop between the individual particles, decreasing their chances for any interaction with each other and decreasing the pressure with your tires. The colder the temperatures, the lower the pressure. In fact, according to most tire manufacturers, for every ten degree drop in temperature, you’ll likely end up losing one pound per square inch of air in your tires.

While it may be easy to just assume that driving in your underinflated tires will eventually warm them up and then increase the air pressure to where it should be, this practice can actually end up damaging your tires and doing more harm than good. You could also experience a blowout while driving and end up losing control of your vehicle altogether.

Another alternative is to fill your tires with nitrogen. While usually a bit more expensive to do, depending on where you get your car serviced, you’ll find that tires filled with nitrogen are not nearly as susceptible to temperature changes compared to tires that are filled with just traditional air.

As temperatures continue to drop this weekend, keep an eye on your tire pressure and don’t ignore the light!

Meteorologist Andrew Stutzke